Saturday, December 19, 2009

One more hypothetical mixtape before we go

On to 2010. Well, eventually.

"McGuire In The Ocean", by Ducktails. The best things in life are free, as the Flying Lizards, and many before them, once sang. It may in fact be true. I once read a piece by a gaming "enthusiast" arguing that you didn't need to actually buy computer games because there was enough enjoyment and satisfaction to be had in the freely available "demo" versions that most games offered. Well, we wouldn't know about that (someone in our house is enough of an obsessive that a demo version would never be enough for him; hell, even the full version itself isn't enough for him), but we do no that there is such great music offered up, Free-'n'-Legal, across the whole wide Internet, that you can actually put together a first-class playlist using just those. Try it. Just look for "Norway", by Beach House, for example. That might just be enough to convince you. Ducktails are giving away three "outtakes" from their (i.e. "his") most recent album. At least two of them are crackers. This is one. The guitars are straight out of Vini Reilly via Manuel Gottsching. That's good enough for us.

"Ghost Town", by Zeep. Ooh, a Latin-inflected cover of one of our personal touchstones. Normally we don't like people messin' with the classics, but this is so tasty, so infectious, that we find ourselves falling for the song all over again. Which is a nice surprise. Featuring a liberal helping of piano accordian (this wouldn't always be a selling point).

"Ohayo Mada Yaro", by Yura Yura Teikoku. More free stuff. The return of the reverb. Sometimes I think that rock and roll was invented in order to facilitate the invention of reverb. What more reason do you need?

"Politicians In My Eyes", by Death. One part Led Zeppelin intro, one part proto-punk-rock verses, one part Classic Rock, Big Hair Power Ballad chorus. By the end of the song the three are fused so tightly together you have no idea which is which. (Neatest trick of the week.)

"Time", by Open Mind. Damn me if this doesn't come across as a classic Chills tune hovering on a dreamy psychedelic tip ("Pink Frost", "I Love My Leather Jacket"). It also carries with it echoes of many other songs ("Bela Lugosi's Dead"(?), "A Forest", Joy Division's "A Means To An End", and others that linger just beyond my grasp).

"If I Knew You Were The One", by Richard Twice. A gloriously soaring 1960s psychedelic pop song. They appear to have grown on trees once upon a hazy time ago.

"Too Long", by Jake Holmes. According to the Internet Jake Holmes was responsible for "Dazed and Confused", a song later made kind of famous by Led Zeppelin. According to the tags on my iTunes playlist, he also co-wrote a fabulous Four Seasons song called "Wall Street Village Day", which I may or may not have written about here. Anyway "Too Long" is another fine sixties psych-pop gemstone, this time hewing rather closely, but not in a bad way, to what you might imagine to be a Tim Buckley melancholy template (but sans vocal gymnastics). The words "fragile" and "delicate" cannot help but come to mind.

"The Kids Are Alright", by The Who. Whereas "fragile" and "delicate" aren't words that sit well next to the words "The Who". Until recently I only knew this song through a twee-pop cover version. Oh the gaps in my musical knowledge are long and wide.

"Shadow Falls", by Hello, Blue Roses. And speaking of twee-pop, it is clearly the genre that will never die. (Something that was never in fashion can, by definition, never go out of fashion.) Actually, maybe this song sits close to the tipping point between twee-pop and dream-pop (is there any better place to be?). It is no surprise, perhaps, that a New Pornographer is involved in this.

"Passionate Introverts (Dinosaurs)", by A Sunny Day In Glasgow. This, however, is pure dream-pop. "Shoegaze" be damned.

"First Class Riot (A Touch of Jules and Jim)", by The Tough Alliance. Wherein JJ (who featured in our last hypothetical mixtape) sand off some of the harsher edges of the original (n.b. this is no criticism of the original, which is a fine song in its own right, and one of the better impersonations of OMD going around -- the synths in this remix are more early New Order) and sets it floating off gently into (inner) space.

"Fire", by Codebreaker feat Kathy Diamond. For a long time we were in love with Kathy Diamond, on the strength of the cover photo on "Miss Diamond To You" and her perfect singing on that album. But then it dawned on us that who we were really in love with was Maurice Fulton, its producer, so we dropped the issue pretty quickly. On this song she sings. As perfectly as ever. The song might be a teensy bit dull, but there's no real need to dwell on that, is there?

"This Case Is Closed (Johan Agebjorn Remix)", by Friday Bridge. We may also be in love with Johan Agebjorn. Whatever. Is it our imagination, or does the singer here sound faintly, and tantalisingly, like Kate Bush? This may be verging on blasphemy, but we may actually be attracted to this song more than anything on the new Sally Shapiro album. (Although our impression of the latter is still a work in progress.)

"City Of Lights (Prins Thomas Vocal Mix)", by City Reverb. It wouldn't be a hypothetical mixtape without something from either Lindstrom or his buddy Prins Thomas. Hark, is that a melodica I hear?

"Coastal Brake", by Tycho. This is the most recent track on the list. The cover, an airbrushed silhouette of a female form encircled by authentic 1970s colour reproductions (think Australian surfing movies, such as "Morning Of The Earth"; the only thing that's missing is the surfboard that should be tucked under her arm), is as good a guide to the music herein as any writing I could do.

"Dead Man's Tale", by Terje Rypdal. Tell me that's not Jarvis Cocker on vocals. What's that? It's not? I don't believe you. What? It was recorded in 1968? I still don't believe you. (Okay, so Jarvis would have been four years old, but still ... It's him. I swear it ...)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Song of the day

"Silverwater", by The Necks. A new Necks CD is always accompanied by a sense of expectation, and, partly, anxiety. Generally speaking, with any group of musicians, especially when they have been working together for some time, when buying their latest release you have a sense of what to expect. Sonic Youth? The Clean? Belle and Sebastian? Stereolab? The surprise is no longer in their basic template, but in what variations they may make to it, or whether this one is a "return to form", or in the case of The Clean the fact that it exists at all. Even Yo La Tengo, the masters of the kitchen sink approach to indie rock, have their records freighted with preconceived ideas, which, post-"And Then Everything Turned Itself Inside Out", are never too far from the mark. In one way, you know what you are getting with The Necks, too: one long piece of music involving keyboards, bass, and drums. But, in another sense, you have no idea what you are going to get. And therein lies the anxiety: if you don't like the opening few minutes, you have most likely blown not just one track, but an entire CD.

Thus, the first time you listen to a Necks CD, the pause from when you press "play" until the music starts is like the moments of silence at the start of one of their concerts, when everyone, including the group themselves, are waiting to see what happens: you are on the edge of your seat, tense, nervous, excited, waiting. And then it starts, and there is no turning back.

For this reason, I don't read reviews of a Necks release before listening at least once. A review can't help but give away at least some of the mystery of what may be contained within the grooves. They should be prefaced in big black letters by the words "Spoiler Alert". It's a bit like finding out the sex of your baby before it is born. Or what Santa is going to bring you.

So it would be unfair of me to write anything specific about "Silverwater". It is a new Necks release. It is seventy minutes long. Its name sounds rather romantic until you realise that Silverwater is also the name of a prison. It is the first in a while to be recorded in the studio. This fact opens up the possibilities even more, because they don't always confine themselves in the studio to the piano/bass/drums of a live setting. The only thing I am going to say about the music itself, because this is a good thing (and hopefully doesn't give too much away), is that Chris Abrahams has blown the cobwebs off his trusty Hammond. After that, you are on your own. But if you have followed The Necks this far into their extraordinary career, I have a feeling you will like what you hear. The cover art is gorgeous, too.

YouTube of the day

I might be the last blogger on earth to link to this, but it's better to be safe than sorry: I wouldn't want any of you to miss it.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Song of the day

"Sweet Gingerbread Man", by The Mike Curb Congregation. If anyone offers to play you this song, run, screaming, in the other direction, with your hands over your ears. Hear it once and it will insinuate itself into your brain, appearing when you least want it to: when you have been woken up by the 11-year-old in the middle of the night and just want to get back to sleep; spending some quality time with your favourite person; trying to concentrate on umpiring a game of under-10s cricket; having a serious conversation with the Chief Justice of Australia.

Of course, you can always just give in to it. That's what I do. But beware: as the title suggests, this song is so full of sugar that prolonged exposure will cause all your teeth to fall out.

Monday, November 30, 2009

of the year 2009

I am starting to get the impression that the number of things that must be done between now and Christmas is longer than the number of days in which they can be done. So, if I am going to get a chance to put in my own, humble, bid for "Record of the Year 2009" it had better be now.

At least from my own singular perspective, it has been a fabulous year for music. Everywhere I turned, there was a discovery to be made (Jeremy Jay) or a new appearance by an old favourite (Air, The Necks). Lists will be proliferating very shortly, possibly even as we speak, and many of those lists, if you are looking in the right places, will contain many albums that I would be happy to endorse. So all I want to do is mention a couple of major records that might have slipped under the radar, and then nominate my favourite.

Under the radar 1: "Immolate Yourself", by Telefon Tel Aviv. In many other years, this would have won hands down: an album conveying such emotional depth by way of analog electronic sounds that it is no surprise, perhaps, that one of its makers didn't survive its making. How is it that sounds that have no existence in nature can stir up such inner turmoil in the listener? Kraftwerk knew this. Brian Eno had an idea or two. But the slightly off-kilter, wobbly warbles that emanate from "Immolate Yourself" can be so destabilising, and at crucial moments so crushing, that you will be convinced of the existence of ghosts in the machines.

Under the radar 2: "Liedgut", by Atom(TM). Another Kraftwerk reference (2009 might be the year that their influence, never slight, was the strongest it has been since 1977), and a vocal appearance by one of their number, too, on this brief but fascinating album, which manages to be a combination of Kraftwerk and white noise. Atom(TM) has spent a few years widening his fanbase, and (arguably; I don't agree) diluting his reputation, by releasing a series of Latin-tinged electronic albums under the name Senor Coconut (one of which is, you guessed it, an album of Kraftwerk cover versions). This record is much more tangential (it is frequently at a tangent to what most of us might think of as "music") but, in its own way, is also pleasingly light and playful. You could easily, having listened to it once, miss the point entirely. There may not be a point. Suffice to say, it warrants, maybe even requires, further listening.

Finally (drumroll) -- my favourite record of 2009 is "Begone Dull Care", by Junior Boys. It chooses itself, really. The funny thing is, though, that I can't really put a finger on why. I think it might be as simple as admiration for the level of attention to detail lavished on its recording. There is a sense that every note, every pause, every sound, has been considered at some length before being committed to. And the choices made are universally the right ones. You can listen to this disc many, many times (and it is another of a small number of records that should be listened to on compact disc -- some will no doubt scream "vinyl!!" -- regardless of the bit rate of your MP3s) and still notice things you could swear you had never heard before. So maybe it is more of a work of superior craftsmanship (whereas "Immolate Yourself" assumes the status of "art") but sometimes a well-made chair can be admired just for being a well-made chair.

Plus, it has the added benefit of breathing new life into their second album, "So This Is Goodbye", which until now could only be seen as Jeremy Greenspan figuring out the direction he would go in following the departure of the Stereo Image guy, who was such an important component of "Last Exit". Now that we can hear the direction chosen, we can appreciate anew the early forays in that direction, and also the paths considered but not taken.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Song of the day (2)

"A/B Machines", by Sleigh Bells. These days, much more often than not, when you actually get to listen to something new that has been hyped to the heavens by music bloggers, your response is, "ho hum". When you listen to Sleigh Bells, you get kicked in the head. In the old days, bands had a chance to settle down into some kind of normality before most of the world got a chance to hear them. We have been hearing about Sleigh Bells since they day they were born. It's a bit like reading reviews of the early Jesus and Mary Chain gigs in the NME all those years ago. Sleigh Bells are if anything more chaotic, more of an unstoppable force of nature. Even Jesus and Mary Chain settled down. There are a bunch of Sleigh Bells demos floating around that catch them in full, naive, flight. It's almost a shame that one day they will figure out what it is they are trying to do.

What to give a hamster who has everything?

A resort holiday.

Ah, those Europeans. They know how to treat a rodent.

Song of the day

(Sorry for being a bit slow on the update.)

"Eagle", by ABBA. By the time of "ABBA: The Album" I had disembarked from the ABBA cruise ship and was about to board the Post-Punk Express. So I missed hearing the bulk of ABBA's "mature" work, until many years later, because of course you couldn't be a Man In Black and also an ABBA fan (at least publicly, so it was best not to do it at all).

And so I come to "Eagle", via its appearance on Lindstrom's "FACT 100" mix, with fresh ears. And what do I hear? All of the bigness you expect from a great ABBA song: outsize arrangements; outsize vocal harmonies; outsize underlying psychodrama; outsize ambition; outsize success. But something else: a pre-echo of the New Pop that would grip the world four or five years later. In fact, there is an element buried in this song that is so close to the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" that ABBA's lawyers must have pricked up an ear or two. (Not only that, but the song's opening also prefigures the music of Studio, and others of the (for want of better descriptions) nu-Balearica school. They really did have all bases covered.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Song of the day

"Antenna", by Sonic Youth. From "The Eternal". In which Thurston Moore does the best impersonation I've yet heard of Beck circa "Sea Change".

Is 40 the new 30?

It adds something to a piece like this one about climate change to be reading it in Canberra, in November, when you should be enjoying another glorious between-seasons Springtime in the Nation's Capital, and it's 38 degrees (that would be 38 degrees Celcius) outside. No. That "38" is not a typo. Twenty-eight would be quite warm for this time of year. But 38? That's just fucked. (And it's going to be the same again today.)

It's a bit like Dylan said: something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

William Steig presents "Punch and Judy: The Later Years"

Here.

This Goes With This

"Darkness Falls", by David Sylvian and Robert Fripp, from the album "The Last Day", which I must confess I don't listen to as often as I listen to other Sylvian records, bears a striking resemblance, at least when Sylvian isn't singing, to Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze". Really it does.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Song of the day

"Lite Beam", by Jeremy Jay. This song is what happens when the primitive pop sensibility of K Records' International Pop Underground butts heads with the icy glamour of David Bowie's "Station To Station". Surprisingly, it has a lot going for it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thought for the day

Apparently you can now buy a record called "The Fall", by Norah Jones. Well, I don't know about you, but I would much rather hear a record called "Norah Jones", by The Fall. I suspect it's just a matter of time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Song of the day

"Double Barrel", by Dave and Ansel (or possibly Ansil, according to some sleeves) Collins. This has been on some heavy rotation at our house since yesterday afternoon, when Carl, while looking for "Aidy's Girl's A Computer", which I seem to have hooked him on, for some reason clicked "play" on this song instead. Has anybody ever figured out what the heck the toaster is saying at the start of the track? I get "I am the magnificent", but then nothin'. "Storming", perhaps, is in there somewhere. Or not.

Also, this is the perfect soundtrack for the present unseasonal (is anything "unseasonal" in these strange days, though?) hot spell Canberra is going through.

The facts on the ground

It was looking like being the best strawberry crop ever. (Enough, even, to comfortably share them with a very large blue-tongue lizard, who has been seen helping himself.) But a couple of nights ago I though something looked wrong with them, and today, after a visit to the nursery, I have, on a rare day off work, had the sad task of pulling one entire patch out by the roots. Curse you, fungal infection.

I should, of course, have listened to my mother, who would never have allowed a strawberry patch to stay in for more than three years. They did so well last year that I thought, Another year can't hurt. And, as has so often proved to be the case (another example: "You are no handyman"), she was right and I was wrong.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Song of the day

"Aidy's Girl's A Computer", by Darkstar. A couple of weeks ago I wanted to nominate this gorgeous piece of dubstep-meets-New-Pop as song of the day, but I don't know shit about dubstep and thus I didn't have the words to say it. Now, thanks to Marcello, here are some words.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fun with words

I quite like the look of this. But then, I am a bit of a sucker for that sort of thing. It's easy to do, but slightly more difficult to do well.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Heroes and Villains

Kevin Huizenga has been busy putting all kinds of lovely stuff on his web page. Check it out.

The return of the hypothetical mixtape

May 2009. It's not that long ago.

"Emotional R", by In Flagranti. If this song got stuck on an endless loop on my stereo I wouldn't feel too disappointed. Essentially the best bits of the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" (Jagger singing "Is there nothing I can say nothing I can do"; that snare hit and bass doink half-way between the third and fourth beat of every second bar) chopped up, screwed with, and looped together, with the piano bit from "She's A Rainbow" thrown in for good measure, this naughty piece of music demonstrates that, in certain contexts, less really is more.

"Return of Starlight (Invisible Conga People Remix)", by Woolfy vs Projections. Coming at you from a Lindstrom (or is it Prins Thomas?) tip, this is a slow build to nowhere, but you shouldn't let that put you off. A small fragment of what might be an actual song drifts in for a couple of minutes towards the end, and then drifts right out again. Welcome to music in 2009.

"The Sun (Parallel or 90)", by Bo Hansson. This is the guy who put The Lord of The Rings to music. On one of his album covers (not the record this song is from) he appears as a cross between Rick Wakeman and Gregor Samsa. This is where I get my electric-piano fix for this month. Actually, if you played this back-top-back with the Woolfy vs Projections, you might think that music hasn't travelled far from the early 1970s. You would be wrong, but not far wrong: in fact, music has gone quite a long way since then, but, like an overextended piece of elastic, it has been pulled back again. Music is like that.

"From Africa To Malaga", by JJ. The album from which this is taken features, on its cover, an oversized picture of a marijuana leaf. That should tell you everything you need to know. A gentle haze descends over proceedings. The vocals remind me (in a good way) of Tracy Thorn. The song is subtle but catchy. The seemingly obligatory high-life influence (welcome to music in 2009, part two) is present and correct (the title kind of gives it away), but not overplayed.

"Gifted", by N.A.S.A. I am not hip-hop averse; I just don't get exposed to much of it. (I also struggle with some lyrical concepts.) This wins by having the artist formerly known as Santogold doing a verse, and particularly by having a chorus voiced by (my) hot chick of the year, Lykke Li. (Even if I don't know how to pronounce her name. And anyway, I plan to just point and nod. )

"Beach Town", by Le Loup. There is something of a baked jungle-samba rhythm bed going on here. The vocals sound somewhat alarmingly like Sting at his most declamatory. There is some big, reverb-y guitar chording. And some other guitar that might remind me, slightly, of Johnny Marr. And some Fleet Fox-ish harmonies. Basically, I don't know what the hell is going on here. And I'm not sure Le Loup do, either. Best just to let it wash over you. Like, I dunno, Woody Allen's "Shadows and Fog".

"Really Wanted You", by Emitt Rhodes. This guy is, like, the shadow Paul McCartney or something. And this song certainly wouldn't be out of place on any number of Wings albums (although I'm sure I detect a certain Lennonish sneer as well): actually, my sense is that it straddles the bridge (not a terribly long bridge) between late Beatles, Cheap Trick and late-seventies skinny-tie "power pop". With some George Harrison and CSNY thrown in. Like me to do any more name dropping? It won't help.

"Forget All About It", by The Nazz. The Beatles/Cheap Trick connection is even stronger here. Come to think of it, I could probably just repeat everything I wrote about the previous song, perhaps adding a special mention of The dB's on account of the vocals.

"Riviera 69", by Chris Joss. Electric bass is front and centre of this slow-burner from, I can only assume, somewhere within five years either side of 1972, with a gorgeous slice or two of Hammond sneaking in just when you want it to (but not staying as long as you might like).

"Blue Honey", by Pop Levi. Oh, and here is another John Lennon vs Cheap Trick smackdown. With the second coming of Marc Bolan on vocals. Pop with attitude is the best kind of pop. Funny, the dude looks more like George Harrison on the record cover. That probably explains the sitar-like sounds that permeate the second half.

"Oh, You Pretty Things", by Au Revoir Simone. Bowie, covered. By three more of my favourite chicks. Do people still say "chicks"? The glam of the original has been replaced by a well-considered understatement. And a tambourine.

"Hanging On The Telephone", by The Nerves. This is so much a Blondie song that it's not easy to come to terms with the fact that it existed as a Punk Rock single a mere three or four years before Debbie Harry and co picked it up and ran with it. Straight to the top of the charts. But here it is. I hear Lennon again. I hear Cheap Trick again. I hear The dB's again. In fact, I hear all the things I most want to hear when the sun comes out and the weather warms up.

"Walk On Gilded Splinters", by Johnny Jenkins. Man, give that funky drummer some. Taken from a Duane Allman anthology. I don't know what's with that. (The Allman Brothers are not my field of expertise.) If you wanted to argue that it goes on a couple of minutes longer than it needs to, I wouldn't put up much resistance. But still, that drummer.

"Northern Hemisphere", by East of Eden. 1969. If Heavy Metal had been invented then, this would have been called by that name. The guitars are straight out of Black Sabbath. But the vocals, well, it's more like Folk Metal, actually. I love this song. In fact, it might be the greatest song ever recorded (as of this minute).

"Recursion (CFCF Remix)", by Genghis Tron. I like the name "Genghis Tron". I see bearded barbarian hordes streaming across the mountains but rendered in 1981-vintage pixelated computer graphics. Widescreen. But not entirely high-res. Which, curiously, is kind of how the song sounds. I tend to like songs that remind me, however slightly, of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. At three-and-a-half minutes a nice reggae lilt sneaks in, hangs around for a while, drifts out again, and then, later, sneaks back in a dubwise stylee. But really, it's the synths, which by the end of the song are all that we are left with, that this is all about.

"Ant 10 (Remix by DJ Lindstrøm)", by Boredoms, or whatever they are calling themselves this week. This is probably, "Shoes" by Tiga notwithstanding, the individual highlight of 2009, a year that has been, I might say, full of (musical) highlights. I will probably never hear the unremix of this song, and I quite possibly wouldn't "get" it if I did. But man, this 10-minute slab of furious drumming, filtered through Mr Lindstrøm's slightly blissed-out visions, stands entirely on its own. You need to turn it up loud. You need to give yourself over to it. And when you do, you will obey its every command. But will you be ready for the funky clavinet (or whatever) that appears around the half-way mark? No, you will not. And will you expect to be reminded of the full-length version of "Disco Inferno", by Trammps, from the soundtrack to "Saturday Night Fever"? No, again. In fact, this track contains more tricks and surprises than a magician at a birthday party, but they are all so subtly and seamlessly introduced that no child will leave in tears, unless, like me, they are crying because they wish it could have gone on longer.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

song of the day

"Small Hours", by John Martyn. All nine minutes of it. I first heard this song on "Crooning on Venus", a David Toop-curated compilation CD on the theme of the human voice, which I bought in London on our 1996 World Tour. But for me it's not so much the voice that makes this song as the guitars. No matter how many times I listen to this song, I want to hear it again.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Song of the day

"Sky Is Falling", by Tugboat. I'm on a bit of a Library Records kick at the moment, partly because the kind of music they released a decade ago is now being drawn on by so many bands from Brooklyn and elsewhere, and partly because I am in the process of creating MP3 archives/back-ups of all my physical CDs. Just in case, y'know. "Sky Is Falling", from the "CDs and Ideas I Never Got Around To Acting On" half of the final Library-wraps-it-up double-CD, drifts along so delicately and gently it is a miracle that it even gets to the end at all, rather than just falling apart halfway through on account of lack of momentum. The trick with a song like this is to be brave enough to back your audience to stay with you for four-and-a-half minutes. It would be tempting to add stuff to it in order to make it more "dynamic". Tugboat resist that temptation.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

song of the day

"X-ray Eyes", by Vivian Girls. No, not those Vivian Girls. These Vivian Girls were from (presumably) Melbourne. They had two tracks on the 2001 Library/3RRR comp "Pacific Highway". And whereas the Brooklyn Vivian Girls are working through some kind of angsty lo-fi issues, these Vivian Girls are all post-punk elbows and knees, in particular echoing the kind of hopped-up, ramshackle propulsion of the first Cure album, but with a bit of Laughing Clowns thrown in for good measure. Always an appealing combination.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Speaking words of wisdom

Here's Tom Waits in a recent Guardian interview:
I used to imagine that making it in music -- really making it in music -- is if you're an old man going by a schoolyard and you hear children singing your songs, playing jumprope, or on the swings. That's the ultimate. You're in the culture.
If Michael Nichols had been lurking around in a typical suburban Canberra street a couple of evenings ago he could have borne witness to five seven-to-eleven-year-olds running around in a backyard and singing "Does anybody here want to buy some cabbage / Right down this way / Does anybody here want some brown-skinned cabbage / Get down this way". (Okay that last line isn't right but I didn't want to spoil the moment.) And I know for a fact that three of them had never heard the actual song. Hanshalf Trio, you're in the culture.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Song of the day

"What I Saw", by Roj. And just to round off the preceding scribble, I give you the last song on the Roj CD. It starts off on some kind of Fripp and Eno excursion before turning several unexpected corners and finishing off in an entirely different place. It is the most instantly striking of the songs on the disc, and demonstrates an understanding of the importance placed by Roj on "saving the best until last" - something I always did as a kid, even if it sometimes meant that my cousin Heather would eat it before I felt I had left enough time (which might be months in the case of a packet of chocolate cigarettes; I don't know how she knew where to find them).

Monday, October 19, 2009

There's A Ghost In My House-ah

I have been labouring under some pretty strong medication (don't drive; don't operate heavy machinery) and I feel as though none of my neurons are quite synapsing as they are meant to do (or whatever). So I have been struggling to put one thought next to another in any kind of sequence. But I've never let that stop me before.

Ghost Box.

Simon Reynolds, among many others, has been flying the flag of this label for some time. Its releases appear to be insusceptible to acquisition by unauthorised methods, and no Ghost Box records to my knowledge have ever graced the shelves of any record store in the Nation's Capital. So I have developed a feel for Ghost Box records, their artwork, the people who make them, and the type of music they contain, in a vacuum from the actual music. I was setting myself up for a fall, but I really did like what I (thought I) heard: a combination of experimental/avant garde music and the type of thing you might have found in BBC documentaries and children's shows from the 1960s and 1970s. (Yes, even on Australian televisions.)

At some point in late 2008, new Ghost Box releases started appearing, unannounced and certainly unheralded, on eMusic. I don't even know what possessed me to look. But there it was: "Other Channels", by The Advisory Circle, which would soon be listed as one of the top albums of 2008 according to The Wire magazine (which usually either means it is essential or unlistenable). And it was soon followed by "From An Ancient Star", the most recent release from something or somebody calling themselves Belbury Poly.

I downloaded them both and was hooked.

Both of these records reek of a kind of nostalgia for an England that probably never existed. Innocence is postulated, but with serious malevolence lurking just below the surface (literally, in the case of one track on the Advisory Circle album, which purports to be a recording of a warning message about watching little children at play on the ice). The word that comes to mind to describe what distinguishes these two releases is "echo": sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical. (And sometimes both.) It is the literal echo, I think, that allows Ghost Box releases to put the "haunt" in "hauntology". It is the metaphorical echo, of childhood, of a lost England, that sets them apart musically and emotionally from most other music being made these days.

Parts of the Advisory Circle disc, at least, are most likely a successor of the kind of British cleverness and satirical wit that we all know from the likes of Monty Python and the Bonzos. Both records come from a different tradition: the music that appeared, as if from nowhere, from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. (You have probably heard the Doctor Who theme.) Perhaps the Belbury Poly disc breaks the label mould somewhat (and has been criticised for same) by its forays into the edges of a parallel space-disco seventies, but it still manages to exist in its own world entirely, and couldn't possibly be mistaken for, well, for anything else, really.

There are a number of Ghost Box records that pre-date those two. There seems to be no move to put them up on eMusic, which is a bit of a shame. (I know of at least one person who would buy them.) But new releases continue to appear. First there was what appears to be a very thorough overview of the label. And now we have an album by someone calling themselves Roj. (Not a very Ghost Box kind of name, that, so he has perhaps felt the need to overcompensate by titling the album "The Transactional Dharma of Roj". Which IS a very Ghost Box kind of name.)

And here we fall upon an interesting connection.

In dwelling on Ghost Box, and its highly selective discography, seemingly unique approach to sound, instantly recognisable packaging, and general avoidance of the publicity machinery, I was trying to come up with another label that I thought might have operated in a similar way. And the only thing I could hit upon, aside from perhaps Blue Note at certain times in its long and distinguished history, was Warp. Warp is well and truly above-ground now, releasing records by the likes of Maximo Park and generally looking like a business model (no, that's a bit harsh; it still has a strong aesthetic imperative, it just casts its net a bit wider these days, both artistically and commercially). But in its early days you felt that you were on solid ground.

And here we play 20 questions (although we won't get to 20).

Who, it can be argued, was the first band to sign to Warp that didn't play music of the type that most listeners would have associated with the label? Broadcast. And who designs Broadcast's record covers? Julian House. And which label does Julian House run? Ghost Box. And which band did Roj used to play with? Broadcast. And which band has just been remixed by Advisory Circle? Seeland. And which band did the members of Seeland used to play with? (You can see this coming, can't you?) Broadcast. And who designs the covers of Seeland records? Julian House.

And here are the most interesting questions of all: Which band has another Ghost Box entity, The Focus Group, just released a collaborative EP with? Broadcast. And who is the human being hiding behind the name The Focus Group? Julian House. And which label is it on? Warp. (I cannot confirm that Julian House also designed the cover but the bookmakers have stopped taking odds on that.)

It is an interesting record, the Broadcast / Focus Group one. (It's called "Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age", which is another very Ghost Box kind of name.) Some of us don't agree with the accepted wisdom that Broadcast have in some way "gone off" over the course of the last couple of records. Some of us will go to our graves smiling as the voice of Trish Keenan floats around in our head. They have "changed", yes, but change is not necessarily bad. Some of us have been waiting rather longer than we would have liked for a new Broadcast record (assuming, or hoping, all the while that there would be one). Well, this is not the new Broadcast record. Although at times you might be forgiven for thinking that it was. Actually, it is a bit like one of those optical-illusion puzzles where, the more you try to see one thing you see something else, and the more you try to see that other thing the more you see the thing you were trying to look at earlier. So, if I try to listen to this as a Broadcast record all I can hear is Ghost Box. If I try to listen to it as a Ghost Box record, all I can hear is Broadcast. It isn't a Broadcast record, but it isn't really not a Broadcast record either. And it's not a Ghost Box record, but it's not really not a Ghost Box record either. It's all rather vexing. I dare say that over time this disjunction will wear off. I'm curious as to what will then reveal itself.

And then there is Roj. He has just now landed in my in-tray and so I feel unable to comment on what he has on offer, yet. It strikes me, on a couple of listens, as less interested in any kind of song structure and more interested in impressions and fleeting effects. I like it. I formed the view, while walking yesterday morning alongside the golf course and dodging an enormous tractor-scraper that impinged on the usual tranquility, that it is in some way a mixture of, say, Delia Darbyshire and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" (the latter, yes, is a bit of a surprise, and perhaps a bit of a stretch). I may have more to say about both of these records as I grow into them. Stay tuned. Or, given that we are talking about Ghost Box, perhaps stay just slightly de-tuned.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

We're Only In It For The Money

Are we witnessing the death of cricket, not only as we know it but as it has been played since the days of W G Grace?

Just asking.

Song of the day

"Lady Eleanor", by Lindisfarne. This is my next most recent obsession. I can't stop listening to it, and when I can't be listening to it I can't get it out of my head. I know it is included in Darren's List, but I first heard it one weekend recently when we had the 1969 UK Top 40 on random, and I thought it was Kevin Ayers (getting it mixed up with another Eleanor). I had long ago formed the impression that Lindisfarne were English folkies in the style of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, probably from the similarities of their names (just like Adrienne had assumed that Massive Attack were heavy metal) but I may have been wrong: were they actually more sympathetic to the Cambridge prog scene? (Ayers again.) At points it is actually like an English "Horse With No Name". Further research reveals the song was written by Alan Hull, two of whose songs I found on the Internet many moons ago and instantly fell in love with. But beyond that I know nothing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hey, Kids! Punk Rock!

The New Yorker is opening its archive to all comers, one issue at a time, for one week at a time. As you know, there is nothing I like more than turning the pages of an old copy of the New Yorker. The most recent one online is the issue of 28 November 1977. Let's look at the Goings On About Town section, specifically the listing for CBGB & OMFUG:
Punk-rock bands on the bandstand; punk-rock-band entourages in the audience -- an interesting jumble of torn T-shirts, dirty sneakers, rear-guard platform shoes, jeans, feathered boas, slicked-down hair, leather, and a wholesome flannel shirt or two. Monday is showcase night. The music usually begins after nine-thirty.
Platform shoes? Really? And was that Mike Watt, visitin' from the West Coast, in the flannel shirt?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Separated at birth?

What appears to be a "new" four-track EP by The Bats (and what a fine collocation of words that is) landed on eMusic this week. It's called "Don't You Rise". As far as I can gather, it is a few songs recorded in the long gap between their last two albums. The quality is high. Something that sounds like Alastair Galbraith's violin makes a welcome appearance. When The Bats are in good form there is nothing better.

But there is something familiar-looking about the cover: compare this with this.

Coincidental I'm sure, but in a year in which the Old Guard have fully proved their worth yet again (here we are talking not just The Bats and Sonic Youth, but also The Clean and Yo La Tengo), it's funny that two of them come up with practically the same cover concept.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Song of the day

"The Greys", by Frightened Rabbit. It was Man Like Raisbeck who first put me onto Frightened Rabbit. It has taken me a while to actually hear them. I don't know if "The Greys" is at all representative of them, but of all the (many) bands presently channelling the sound of early 1980s Dunedin, it is only Frightened Rabbit that have put me in mind of The Verlaines, one of the lesser known mainstays of that scene, but whose "Juvenilia" compilation album, if you want my opinion, is as solid as anything by heavy hitters like The Clean, The Bats, The Chills. Hats off.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

YouTube of the day

Watch (an almost visible) Rob Snarski singing "This One Eats Souls", accompanied only by Chris Abrahams on piano. Now that's quality.

Friday, October 02, 2009

What is French for "Announcement"?

I have heard the new Air album. I know I have been burned before, many times, calling out the greatness of a record after one listen, only to eat my words later. So I might as well do it again. This is a very good album. Like, very, very good. Like, "Moon Safari" good. Like, "Talkie Walkie" good. Trust me. Just this once.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

What we did on our holidays



Note: the third photo, you need to look very closely or right-click it onto a new page. It shows an echidna that found us while some of us were fishing. It followed us along the riverbank, and then it followed us up to the top of the riverbank. The little buggers can move remarkably quickly. We had camera-battery trouble or we may have been able to get a better shot. It wasn't shy at all.

Other highlights:

Watching the AFL Grand Final in the bar of the Empire Hotel, Wahgunyah, with plenty of a particular type of untranslatable Australian humour (dry as dust) as accompaniment -- especially towards the end of the game, when the locals were well lubricated. I had looked deep within myself, as you do when you don't support either side, in the minutes before the opening siren, and found that I actually wanted Geelong to win. The locals were firmly in the St Kilda camp, as were our camping companions, so I kept quiet. For the most part. But I am glad the Cats won, even though in saying that I have to acknowledge the pain of the many Saints fans of our acquaintance. Sorry, guys.

Seeing a fairly old and clunky four-wheel drive with a sticker that said "Victoria: a great place to live" and, below that, "Unless you are autistic". I wanted to find the driver to ask what was behind the sticker, as it is something we have a personal stake in, having autism in the family and intending, at some point down the track, to move back to Victoria. But we got distracted by other things and the vehicle disappeared when we weren't looking.

Sitting around an actual campfire telling stories. With and without marshmallows.

Downside: having to take with me a ball and chain, in the form of a laptop and wireless dongle to "allow" me to hose down a couple of work-related fires that sprang up an hour after we booked our trip, which we did, unusually for us, on the spur of the moment.

Maybe we should do that sort of thing more often.

Song of the day

"Life From A Window", by The Jam. It is twenty or more years since I last listened to "This Is The Modern World". I am struck by how big the sound is: possibly this is a result of a good remastering job, possibly because what I was listening to 20 years ago was a copy of a worn vinyl LP taped onto a low-end cassette tape, probably a TDK AD90. In the intervening two decades I had also entirely forgotten this song. It doesn't appear on any Jam compilation of my acquaintance, and yet it is a lovely song. Not within a bull's roar of "punk", more Kinks (think "Days") than Sex Pistols or, to use a Mod against Mod comparison, more Kinks than, say, The Action. Paul Weller, for all his Angry Young Man stance, always had a way with a good tune. I think that is why I, unlike some, had no problem with the final Jam album and Weller's subsequent reemergence with The Style Council. They may have been lightweight musically (actually they weren't: when I saw them live Mick Talbot's organ was frequently only a couple of degrees away from being toppled over by the furiousness of his playing) but they were creating a style of music that nobody else was brave enough to go near (or, if they did, to do justice to). A bit like this song, really.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Song of the day

"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow", by The Shapiros. And speaking of Bart, there is a curious reference in the third paragraph of this review. Could it be? I'm sure there are tens of thousands of twee bedroom bands to have recorded this song. Aren't there?

One the one hand, the reviewer could have been a little bit kinder. These are not just some disembodied sounds coming out of a speaker: there are HONEST, DECENT PEOPLE behind the making of the record. ("We" critics tend to forget that.)

On the other hand, it's nice to think that this particular version of what is a great song might be getting played in London pubs in 2009.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Product placement

This from the ever-reliable Harper's Weekly Review:
A North Carolina man had surgery to remove a plastic spoon that had been in his lung for two years. “There was an object down there, and it had writing on it,” the man said. “It spelled out 'Wendy's' on one side and 'hamburgers' on the other.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Song of the day

"Sorry Lori", by Jason Collett. Another George Harrison sighting: this time in Canada. Some very lovely Harrisonesque guitar is all over this sweet little number. Jason Collett is a member of Broken Social Scene. So, it would appear, is a majority of the Canadian population. Well, good luck to them all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weed

Have I already told this one?

Once upon a time I was a boy living on a farm. My father operated the dairy-farm side of things, and my two uncles, Jack and Charlie, ran a few beef cattle, tinkered with fences and machinery, cooked up a storm, and otherwise kept pretty much to themselves. For the early years of my life they lived on a separate property, in a house on a hill halfway between our part of the farm and the town of Fish Creek. When they sold that property, they moved into a house at the other end of the remaining property from us. Uncle Jack concentrated on his cooking and on collecting an unfeasibly large collection of spare parts, nuts and bolts, old solid-state radios and the like. Uncle Charlie took on the role of weed destroyer, trooping through the many areas of untrammeled bush on the property, poison bottle and mattock in hand. He systematically worked his way from one end of the farm to the other over a period of several weeks, and would then start again, a bit like the blokes who paint the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

But there is one corner that he must have missed.

One day he came into our house in a state of some excitement. "I've found somethin' over in the bush near the Pollettis'. I think it might be" -- and here I must write the word as it was then pronounced, not as it is spelt -- "marry-jew-arna". At which point my teenage ears pricked up. "We better go and have a look", my dad said. I kind of quietly tagged along. There had been a spate of dope-related incidents involving some of the high school teachers that I actually liked, and of course there were references always appearing in my beloved NME, and on 2JJ, and in the records I owned, so I thought there might be something to be gained by being in the presence of the dreaded weed.

I knew our end of the farm like the back of my hand, but the part beyond the edges of the dairy paddocks was less familiar, as I spent much less time there. They seemed to go on forever, and the layout was confusing, so even now I'm not entirely sure where I was, but eventually we walked through a bit of bush I had never been in before, and there before us stood two circular groups of marijuana plants, looking thin and healthy, well leafed (if that is a word), and standing, at least this is how I remember them, about seven feet tall. There were buckets and a hose nearby. The plants clearly hadn't finished up there by accident, and nor were they suffering from neglect. Over by the boundary fence, there were well-worn track marks along the Pollettis' side, leading along the fence for a while and then across a paddock to a road. We surmised that the owners of the plants, our unknown and uninvited tenants, were regular users of those tracks, coming in, tapping into a water supply somewhere nearby (there are several stories from my youth on the farm that involve illegal tapping of the water mains), most likely a trough on the Pollettis' property, and then climbing through the boundary fence to check on and keep the water up to their crop.

"We better tell Duffus", Charlie said. "We better talk to Jack first", dad said. Nobody ever did anything without talking to Uncle Jack first. Duffus was the local policeman. He was duly told, and turned up a bit later that day with a couple of other coppers whom I didn't recognise, most likely from Foster, to inspect the merchandise. Unsurprisingly, dad and my two uncles were fairly quickly ruled out as suspects. On reflection I was probably a much more likely suspect, but if there was any heat on me I didn't feel it. The crop was unceremoniously pulled up and removed from the farm, never to be seen again. I imagined a phalanx of heavily armed policemen laying in wait in the far reaches of our farm for the unsuspecting marijuana farmers to return. But the cops seemed to be more interested in destroying the dope (or possibly keeping it for their own use) than in catching the culprits. I also wondered if the enterprising growers, upon discovering the destruction of their hard-won cash crop, might not reasonably have suspected the involvement of our family, and if we may have soon found ourselves involved in some kind of drug war, but I had probably been watching too much television.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Song of the day

"Dream Surf Baby", by Adventures In Stereo. This could easily be passed off as The Sound of Young Brooklyn, circa 2009. But it isn't. It's the Sound of Young Glasgow, circa 1998. Haven't heard them cited as an influence (unlike, say, Black Tambourine), but the similarities in sound and approach are undeniable. Several times a song from "Alternative Stereo Sounds" (thanks Bart) has come up on the iPod and I have thought, "I didn't think I put the Vivian Girls on here." I was right. I hadn't.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Song of the day

"Nutbush City Limits", by Bloodloss. Crazy, man. Crazy. One listen to this song (20 years old but still packing a remarkable punch) puts me in mind of about 100 other songs of the era. "Custom Credit". "In The Raw". Who will mount the argument (it won't win, but the result might be closer than you would think) that Australian music at the end of the 1980s was stronger than it was at the start?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

By Chance

After another slightly hairy weekend, it was a nice surprise to turn a corner in the National Portrait Gallery and be met with the Jenny Watson oil paintings of Grant, Lindy and Robert that were used for the front cover of The Go-Betweens' "Send Me A Lullaby" album (which can be viewed here). They aren't much bigger than they appear on the record cover. Small but perfectly formed. They might be hung way too close to a rather grim Reg Mombassa self-portrait and a series of individual photos of the members of Sherbet ("Darrrrryyyyyylllllll!!!!!!!!!") but you can choose to ignore those.

The Gallery has a few musicians hanging from its walls: Paul Kelly reduced to black t-shirt and piercing eyes but still instantly recognisable; Chrissie Amphlett painted by Ivan Durrant (I quite like Ivan Durrant's paintings, except they are like a very rich slice of cake: you can't have too much of it at one time without making yourself sick; not unlike Jeff Koons I suspect); and the real drawcard of the gallery, Howard Arkley's painting of Nick Cave, done in what I can only describe as "high junkie" style, perhaps proving the old schoolyard adage "It takes one to know one".

People Who Died

RIP Jim Carroll.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The cow in the creek

My father always knew if there was a cow missing. I don't know how he did this. There were quite a lot of them, and they all looked more or less the same. But he would, perhaps not with one fleeting glance over the herd, but after a day or two of going about his usual business, be able to say with absolute certainty that "Number 203 has disappeared", and that we had better go and have a look for it.

And so, off we went, him driving the tractor, me standing on the carry-all (a kind of wheel-less trailer attached to the back of the tractor), hanging off the back using strands of hayband knotted to the front of the carry-all, pretending to be a world champion surfer or something, and never once thinking that perhaps the knots might not hold and I might end up on my back in a puddle of mud or cow poo. Or maybe I was driving the tractor while dad gripped the front of the carry-all with tense white knuckles, smiling through gritted teeth and keeping his fingers crossed that I wouldn't drive us over a cliff or some such thing.

Anyway, this one particular cow had been missing for a few days, and we had searched and searched with no success. Dad was starting to wonder if perhaps she hadn't somehow escaped into the neighbouring property. But no, they hadn't seen her. So dad went about his daily routine, but quietly, as was his way, keeping half an eye out for our lost Bessie. Or Mabel. Or "Number 359". And it was only a couple of days until that quiet half an eye lit upon a rather unusual sight. So unusual, in fact, that he interrupted what he was doing to come back to the house and say, "You had better come and have a look at this." He wouldn't say what it was (which was not unusual; he never said more than was necessary).

We headed down to one of my favourite places on the farm, a narrow overgrown track at the foot of a steep bluff and running alongside the creek that ran through the property, not far from where a platypus had once allegedly been seen. Walking along, I was wondering what he could possibly have to show me down here. It was a place for standing still and taking in the absolute quiet of the farm, not a place for things that needed "having a look at".

"What can you see?", he said, looking through the thin stand of creek-side blackwood trees. I looked.

"Nothing, dad", I replied.

"You're not looking hard enough."

I looked again. I was starting to feel a bit silly: I really could see nothing. "In the creek", he said helpfully.

And there, standing in the middle of the creek, was the missing cow. Dead, and yet standing upright, as if enjoying a peaceful bath.

"What?!", I exclaimed, not quite registering what I was seeing. Adopting a Sherlock Holmes-like persona, dad ran through the likely circumstances of the cow's demise, as well as he could reconstruct them. There had been rain a few days earlier, and the creek had suddenly gone from a trickle to a flood, which often happened. The cow must have been walking through the creek, which was something they could do when the creek was low (although obviously such activity wasn't encouraged), and got its leg caught in one of the many fallen trees that lay like traps on the creek bed. The flood then came up and the cow drowned. That would explain why she was still standing up: if she had got stuck and starved to death before the flood, she would have fallen over (plus, that would have taken a while, and dad would have realised she was missing much earlier than that, and his eagle eye most probably would have been able to discover her plight before it was too late).

It was a remarkable sight: disturbing, but not without a kind of serene beauty, or grace, or even majesty. I kept waiting for her to turn her head, or swish her tail, or at least say "Moo". The poor old cow.

She had also left dad with a problem. Normally, dead livestock would be removed from the property, or at least taken far away from the working dogs and burned (dogs being attracted to dead cows' guts, in which lurk certain substances that are, unfortunately, fatal for dogs). In the absence of any idea of how to get her out, and given that her semi-submerged state would keep her safe from dogs, dad thought the best thing was to let nature take its eventual course. Which didn't take long: soon, the cow had collapsed and disappeared under the water, where some vestige of her perhaps still lies.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The latest thing from England

The place: a wind-swept and lonely bus stop in Canberra's "parliamentary triangle" (kind of like a love triangle but without the love). The time: a late-wintery dusk.

The 5:40pm bus to Woden either had been cancelled or was running early. (I hate it when buses run early. It means most people will miss it, and that means the next one will be late and/or overcrowded.) Thus the lonely public-transport user (i.e. me) had time to listen to the entirety of the debut album by The xx, called "xx". Even in the unregulated critical Wild West of the Internet, the hype bestowed on this record has been remarkable. There is no way that the thing itself could live up to it. And, unsurprisingly, it doesn't. Quite. A good record, yes, by a bunch of kids who have done their homework and seem to have a healthy but not overbearing degree of self-confidence and belief in what it is they are trying to do. But, really, at this point in my life (and perhaps this is a generational thing: I wonder, now, although I didn't wonder then, how people who grew up with the likes of The Byrds and Credence Clearwater Revival responded to R.E.M. and the paisley underground of the late 1980s) if I want to hear something that sounds like, let's say, Young Marble Giants, early New Order, and the production work of Martin Hannett, I would much rather go back to the things themselves.

So, yes, there is much to admire here. Brevity, for a start. It is one of the interesting developments of this era of everything-is-free-if-you-want-it music consumption and limitless storage that long-playing records (or the digital equivalent) are getting shorter rather than longer (Oneida three-disc concept whatevahs notwithstanding). It's like, now that they are not limited to 80 minutes bands no longer feel the need to record enough music to fill the space available. (I wonder how someone like Stereolab would have responded to that?) This is undoubtedly a Good Thing. Many of the best records of the late seventies / early eighties were EPs and what used to be called "mini albums", generally two or three songs per side. They weren't easy to market, but they enabled a band to cut away the fat. The Reels did two brilliant examples, one in particular ("Pitt Street Farmers") is as good as anything in their esteemed discography. The Triffids had "Raining Pleasure" (and also "Lawson Square Infirmary", by the non-existent group of the same name, which contained a Triffid or two). Internationally, the "Snake Charmer" supergroup (my first exposure to Arthur Russell, tho' I didn't know it at the time), the Meat Puppets and R.E.M. come to mind. It was a pain to have to get up and turn the record over after ten minutes but everything that requires movement is a pain when seen through the eyes of a teenager.

Brevity, then, and simplicity (in the sense of absence of undue complexity). These are hard to pull off. And The xx do pull them off. It's not their fault that the incestuous and insular world of the music blogger has showered them with impossible garlands. But it's hard not to take a deep breath and shout: "GET REAL". 4.5 stars? 9.5 out of ten? Huh? It seems to me that the high points scores are being given out on the basis that (and they may well be right about this) it is a remarkable record for a bunch of 19-year-olds. But if that was a legitimate criterion, its unavoidable corollary is that, if I was sufficiently able to get myself together to write, play, record and release a CD (the "if" in that clause is doing a power of work), I should get an automatic ten stars, irrespective of how awful it would undoubtedly be, simply because I am crap at everything. The review would go something like, "This is an absolutely remarkable record, coming from a guy who is a complete dick at everything he does. Ten stars." Good for me, but, honestly, I wouldn't buy it.

Reality check: "xx" is not a bad first effort. Maybe one day they will grow into something beyond their influences (or their parents' record collections). I like the sound of the guitars. I don't much like the guy's singing voice. Picky picky. I suppose I would much rather kids today were listening to this than, I dunno, gangsta rap (does that still exist?), but there is, really, a fair amount of reinventing of the wheel going on here. Lucky it's a stylish kind of wheel, I guess.

Given the length of the record and the infrequency of Canberra buses, not only was I able to get through all of "xx", but I was also able to sneak in the first few songs of Tiga's new album, "Ciao!". Now, there's an album that has learned the lessons of New Order and applied them in all sorts of interesting, and fun(!), ways. "Shoes": is that the best song of 2009 or is that the best song of 2009?

Song of the day, circa 1975

"Dreamers", by Supertramp. I haven't heard this song for many a long year, but when I was 11 or 12 years old I listened to it over and over, thanks to my "exotic" and "sophisticated" Melbourne cousins. (It has actually aged pretty well. Some of their other songs haven't.) I wonder if my fascination with this song back then has something to do with my present obsession with the sound of the electric piano.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Song of the day

"Manchild", by Neneh Cherry. Just the latest in a continuing series of "Songs it has taken me half of my life to realise I cannot live without."

Monday, September 07, 2009

Song of the day

"Tensile", by The Clean. I listen to a lot of songs. I listen to a lot of songs that I have never heard before. I should, by now, be unable to be surprised. But this song surprised me. As in, What? This is The Clean? Closer inspection reveals certain indicators of The Way The Clean Do Things, but for a band to drift so far away from their roots at an age when most musicians would be starting to think about the attractions of the supper club circuit is admirable. The song might be a distant cousin of a Bats song, "For The Ride" perhaps, but with added keyboards, electronic effects and processed vocals such that it might have come out of the present Brooklyn scene. It's from their forthcoming album, "Mister Pop". You should buy it. I know I will be.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Song of the day

"The Times", by Lightning Dust. Usually when I hear something that reminds me of "Sympathy For The Devil", well, I would rather be listening to "Sympathy For The Devil". It is a mark of the excellence of this song, which certainly has a "Sympathy" quality to it, that I am just as happy to keep listening to it. Well done, you.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Song of the day

"Do It Again", by Intimate Disco. Fifteen minutes of pure instrumental bliss, picking up the Steely Dan song of the same name and running with it as far as it is possible to run. And then running some more. I suspect Messrs Fagen and Becker would approve.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Here we go again

It just goes to show that the fact that something appears with increasing frequency, or increasingly dire alarmism, on the front pages of the newspapers, at the start of the news bulletins, and all over the current affairs programmes doesn't necessarily mean that it is right.

First: Y2K. What was that all about?

Second: the Second Great Depression. Okay, it's probably still too early to call that one's bluff, and the methods used to avert it (whether it was, or was not, in need of averting) may be paid for by the next few generations of (mostly) Americans, but it's looking increasingly like things weren't quite as bad as all that - just like, in the couple of years before the markets melted down, it is now pretty damn easy to see that things weren't as good as they were being made out to be, either. (It might be fun to trawl through some American newspapers - and not just the business pages, either - circa 2006 to see how often people were being told that house prices would keep going up forever and that you could bet your, or more accurately somebody else's, life savings on it. Like, duh?)

Third: swine flu. August was going to be when it wreaked maximum devastation upon us all. Well, August has been and gone, or pretty much so anyway, and the vast majority of us seem to be still here, and unscathed. Yes, people are still contracting it, and there is nothing to be gained by understating its severity, but was there really anything to be gained by scaring the bejeezus out of us? (Actually, yes, there was much to be gained. Publishing a newspaper with the front page emblazoned with the headline "Everything's pretty quiet around here" isn't likely to lead to a sudden spike in advertising revenue.)

Fourth: Islamic fundamentalism. We may, or may not, be about to be overwhelmed by tyrannical fanatics of some stripe or other. We will know when it happens. But in the meantime we would, I suspect, be better off going about our business, unscathed by millenarian (that may not actually be the word I'm looking for) predictions.

Where does that leave climate change? Whether it's from growing up on a farm, or for some other, random reason, climate change has been frightening the pants off of me since long before the papers got hold of it. In fact, I have for some time been hoping it would gain some traction in the mainstream media. Which it now has. Doomsday scenarios are there, in black and white, for those who choose to look for them. They aren't (yet) on the front page, but they're there. And now that they are, my in-built media bullshit detector has unexpectedly switched itself on. Theories of climate change, after all, are just that: theories. And while I am still 100 per cent prepared to take the word of scientists over the word of conservative politicians, vested interests and lobbyists any day, I have realised that it is important to acknowledge that we are staring at the unknown. The Communists never took over the world. We weren't obliterated (or haven't been yet, anyway) by nuclear destruction, or enslaved by aliens. (Yes, Australia did lose the Ashes. Some things do go as predicted.)

Here's the thing: in August 1959, Mollie Panter-Downes, writing in the New Yorker, wrote this:

The beautiful hot summer, which has gone back to the good old sun-baked pattern of the years before the atomic bomb was popularly supposed to have upset the weather, must rank as major news here in its cheerful effect on the national morale.

You might, if you were a sceptic, substitute the words "carbon consumption" for "atomic bomb", and speculate as to what might be written a few years from now. I still think, sadly, that you would be wrong, but the course of events runs according to no plan. None that we can see, anyway. (The other thought that comes out of that quote is: history tends to record what comes to pass, not what doesn't come to pass.)

Bonus question: are our computers going to pack it in again come 01-01-10?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Song of the day

"Mama Used To Say", by Junior. For a long time, back when songs came on the radio, and went away again, and you never quite managed to catch who or what they were, I thought this was Michael Jackson. (Well, it does contain a liberal usage of that "Oooh" thing.) I was never, at the time, entirely sure whether I liked it. Now I am certain.

(Another, much more recent, song has affected me in a similar way: "In The City", by The Chromatics, has been floating around on my work computer for some time now, and I have listened to it quite a bit, frequently finding myself close to hitting the "delete" button. But all of a sudden, having forked out for the "After Dark" compilation, on which it also appears, it has dawned on me that it's a song I can't live without. I can't explain it. But then, love's like that.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Song of the ... er ... decade?

So, Pitchfork has published a list of the 500 best songs of the first decade of the 21st century. A few thoughts:

1. Isn't it a bit like announcing the winner of the grand final while you're still only half-way through the last quarter?

2. How is it that I have never even heard of, let alone heard, the song that has been anointed as the number one song of the first decade of the 21st century?

3. I wonder what was number 501?

4. One thing a scroll through the list has done is remind me of just how good the early Broadcast records were. And, I can now confirm after giving them another listen, are.

5. Surely the best record of the first decade of the 21st century is "I Feel Space", by Lindstrom: a record that, by looking backwards, managed to invent a version of yesterday's musical future that has, more or less, come to pass in the four years since its release. Whether this one piece of music can therefore be said to have caused music to be the way it is now, or whether Lindstrom just managed to catch the leading edge of a wave that had already begun to form, we will never know.

6. Wouldn't it be funny if the best song of the first decade of the 21st century hasn't even been released yet?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Neatest trick of the week

Meanwhile over at beck.com, the Record Club heads into the home straight of its current season with an all-acoustic version of "Black Angel's Death Song", the "difficult" second-last song on the first Velvet Underground album. This is perhaps the most radical, and I think the most successful, re-working in the entire project. Listen to it with your eyes closed and you might well be listening to a Bob Dylan song from a similar time: "Masters of War" comes to mind (but then it often does).

One more song to go, but even now we can say: hats off to everybody involved. Not every song has been a success, but most have been at least listenable, and three or four could survive commercial release. I look forward to the next instalment.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Song of the day

"Radio Free Europe", by R.E.M.

"Radio Free Europe" was the first R.E.M. song I ever heard. My old partner-in-crime Russell and I were on one of our periodic record-buying raids into the city (and sometimes beyond - to Greville Records in Prahran, to Exposure in Cotham Road, Kew, to Dixon's Recycled in far-away Blackburn - we even, once, went to the home of the World Record Club, in Hartwell, as it was closing down, and my regret now is that I didn't buy the entire contents, all of those V Balsara and His Singing Sitars records, what I wouldn't give etc etc).

If I may digress for a second: one night Russell, Roger and I headed off to somewhere like Coburg or Preston, by train, on a futile attempt to find some record shop we had never heard of, in a place we didn't know, that Russell seemed to think was having a big sale. We came home empty-handed (I don't think we even managed to find the shop, or maybe it was closed, or the sale was finished, or was a dud, I don't now remember - come to think of it I can't be absolutely certain that Roger was with us) and, when we were riding the train home, the entire carriage all to ourselves, a drunk guy wandered in, muttered something, sat down opposite us, vomited up a remarkably smooth and remarkably pink liquid concoction onto the floor between us, muttered a bit more, then stood up and staggered out of the train at the next station.

And with the appearance of the word "muttering", we neatly and unexpectedly return to R.E.M., who were once the subject of a magazine headline that said something like, "The only band that mutters". Anyway, on this particular vinyl excursion, we found ourselves at Central Station, downstairs at the long-defunct Melbourne City Square. They were having a sale, as it happened, and Russell handed me the first two R.E.M. albums, "Murmur" and "Reckoning", saying something like "You should buy both of these". Which, one friend unquestioningly following the advice of another, I did. I wish he was still around to thank. Both of those albums, and the two that followed, "Fables of the Reconstruction / Reconstruction of the Fables" and "Life's Rich Pageant", ended up being among my most-listened-to records of the 1980s. This was at a time when the sixties of The Byrds were only just starting to creep into the Melbourne band scene, and R.E.M. were a breath of fresh air similar to the one The Smiths were soon to blow in on from another direction.

(And then, on "Document", they gave the clearest appearance of selling out: YOU COULD UNDERSTAND THE WORDS!!! At which point I left R.E.M. behind. It was one of my typical, and typically misguided, rushes to judgment. "Document" itself, I am prepared to admit in hindsight, is only slightly below their best. "Green", on the other hand, has only moments. And I knew, the Saturday morning that I heard Brian Wise on the radio going on about the greatness of "Out of Time", that R.E.M. had slipped out of my grasp and into the mainstream. I was, of course, wrong, at least in one respect: their greatest moment, "Automatic For The People", was still to come.)

But, man, those first four albums. Michael Stipe was an extraordinarily charismatic front-man for someone who went to such great lengths not to allow himself to be understood. They had a remarkable guitarist (echoes, again, of The Smiths). They wrote great song after great song. They specialised in false starts and false endings, and in counterintuitive arrangements. They threw away as afterthoughts musical ideas most bands would have been proud to make a whole song, or even an entire album, out of. Most of all, and never more so than on "Murmur", they filtered the tunesmithery of The Byrds through the soundsmithery of The Cure's "Seventeen Seconds" and "Faith", two of my then (and still) favourite records. Nothing was clear. Everything was suggested. They weren't so much lost in the fog as seeing with absolute clarity where they were going, notwithstanding the fog. The fog, in other words, was integral to the songs, and hence to the records. It is how I remember them. It is how I want to remember them.

Which is why listening to the remastered two-CD "Deluxe Edition" of "Murmur", released to great fanfare last year, was such a horrifying experience. Here is a record, the opacity of the sound of which has always been integral to its greatness, buffed up and polished so much that it sounds like any other sixties-influenced eighties rock record. The drum hits are crisp and clear, the vocals are up front and centre, with impeccable clarity. Everything is in its right place. It's just that it's the wrong place. I have reacted to this "Murmur" in the much the same way that I reacted to first hearing "Speedboat", from the compact disc release of "Rattlesnakes", by Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, in 1986: I ran as far away from it as possible, as fast as possible, for fear that I could never listen to it on record again. In the case of "Rattlesnakes", the sound was just so frighteningly clear that I could see my entire vinyl collection collapsing into instant irrelevance. In that instance time healed all wounds, of course, and I can now listen to vinyl and CD (and MP3, for that matter) side by side and appreciate the pros and cons of both. But in the case of the remastered "Murmur" my fear is that by listening to it again I risk undoing the magic spell that the original album has cast over me for so long. If the album means as much to you as it does to me, I don't know that you are going to get anything positive out of the "Deluxe Edition". If you are new to R.E.M., then go for it, you will never know what you are missing, and I dare say that even in the absence of its original fuzziness it is still a great album. They are, after all, fine songs, whichever way you look at it.

So I run back to the shelf that holds the vinyl, think of Russell as I drag "Murmur" out of its cardboard sleeve, cardboard inner sleeve and plastic inner inner sleeve, drop the needle on the record, and luxuriate once more in the murky and unfathomable depths of this majestic album. And breathe a sigh of relief that its particular genie is still nestled comfortably in its bottle. But it was a close call.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Four Seasons (In One Day)

A few months ago I put up here an ad from the New Yorker published early 1959 showing somebody moving furniture into the newly completed Seagram Building. Time marches on, and now we publish an ad from the New Yorker from August 1959 announcing the opening of the Four Seasons restaurant (which was, and is, in the Seagram Building).




Has graphic design improved at all in the last fifty years? This ad would suggest the answer, Not really. (And the owners of the Four Seasons clearly think the same way: the same logo appears on its website today.) The white space. The clean lines. The symmetry. The graphic might be something that fell from the pen of, say, Richard McGuire ten minutes ago. (Question: did Mies van der Rohe and/or Philip Johnson, who designed the restaurant itself, also design those gorgeous images?)




(Hint: click on the picture for one that can actually be seen by the naked eye.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

High Rotation (Junior Edition)

The boys watched "Barnyard" on the weekend. It resembled no farm I have ever seen: even the man cows (that'd be "bulls") had udders. Watching an uddered man cow strumming an acoustic guitar and singing the Johnny Cash version of "I Won't Back Down" was, frankly, more than I was prepared for. However, it did pave the way for the eleven-year-old to become interested in the sound of the twilight of Johnny Cash's voice. The other song that the boys won't let go of, also from the movie, is "Boombastic", by Shaggy, which takes you back to the days of jungle and dancehall. It doesn't do that much for me but it has a nice rhythm. That should be "riddim", I suppose.

We also don't seem to be able to get enough of the 8-Bit remix of "Hell Yes", by Beck, from his album of "Guero" remixes, "Guerolito". The remix album has grown on me in direct proportion to the way the original album has also grown on me. There is something about Beck that makes it easy to listen to the same songs over and over. Which is pretty lucky for us, really. Because that's what we tend to do.

Song of the day

"Through My Mouth", by Eleventh Dream Day. Man, Eleventh Dream Day. I haven't listened to them, or even thought about them, for years, possibly (gasp) decades. But their sound has travelled across the eons remarkably intact and, in fact, fresh. If you drew a few lines connecting The Dream Syndicate, Sonic Youth, The Feelies and Band of Susans, you would have some idea of what they sound like. You would also have a pretty cool drawing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Song of the day

"Seal Whales", by The Meat Puppets. Everybody (well, Kurt Cobain anyway) raves about "Meat Puppets II". But for my money their third album, "Up On The Sun", takes the baked cookie. Its blend of quiet psychedelia and Arizona heat-haze makes it irresistible. "Seal Whales" is but one of many cases in point.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Song of the day

"Anybody Here Wants To Buy Some Cabbage", by The Hanshalf Trio. I have been walking around singing this song for a few days now. The boys think I am a bit strange. They may not be entirely wrong.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Song of the day

"Want You Back", by Nite Jewel. New release on Italians Do It Better. They sure do. So many songs at the moment combine cheeeeezy synths, "Dare", and New Order. These are not mutually exclusive propositions. This entire EP is going to be on high rotation around here. Nite Jewel has got her mojo back.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken

An explanation is probably in order.

Having signed a document stating that I will not use my work computer for the purpose of (inter alia) "updating personal blogs", it is probably for the best that I no longer do so. Which is a shame, because it has been quite convenient to be able to, throughout the day, compose a few sentences in my head, and then sit down with a cup of tea for a few minutes in the afternoon to type and upload those sentences onto this here weblog.

Bear with me, then, if you will, as I adjust myself to the New Reality, and find a new routine to fall into.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Song of the day

"Execution", by Pink Mountaintops. Watch it here. I think you'll find it speaks for itself.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it

As quoted in the New Yorker, an unnamed friend of John Brennan (President Obama's unsuccessful initial candidate for Director of the CIA - which, well, in these early post-Bush years, is that a job anybody would actually want? There's a few skeletons there, fellas) described those of us who write blogs as "a few Cheeto-eating people in the basement working in their underwear".

In case you're wondering, they're Bonds.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

This Goes With This (compendium edition)

I seem to have had a day of hearing things in other things. Listening to "Telescope", by Partial Arts, I suddenly found myself hearing "Nothinginsomethingparticular", by The Associates.

Then, I was listening to something by Amon Duul II (the name of which escapes me; it's on another hard drive in a different place) and found myself thinking of "Breaking Glass", from Bowie's "Low" album (perhaps not surprising given what Bowie would have been listening to at the time).

And finally, spinning the new album by YACHT, I was put in mind of Romeo Void (were Romeo Void anything more than a no-hit wonder? Answers on a postcard please) and, later, one of those gorgeous Heather songs that lurk on most Beat Happening albums.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Song of the day

"Careering", by Public Image Ltd. I have started to actually read, as opposed to merely dipping my toes into, Simon Reynolds' big fat book on the post-punk era, "Rip It Up And Start Again". One thing a book like this does, for those of us who lived the scene vicariously, from half a world away, through the pages of the NME and the half-heard radio signals of Sydney's 2JJ, is tell us a bit more about what was really happening at the time, and particularly the social and economic triggers, and the philosophical ideas that were in play (although the latter were played out to some extent in the NME, if we had been old or wise enough to understand any of them). Another thing it does is give us a friendly nudge in the direction of a few records or bands that we knew about but had never quite got around to listening to, through mental blanks and/or simple unavailability of their records in this country. (Exhibit 1: The Mekons. Exhibit 2: The Slits (save for their glorious take on "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", which I have always known and loved).)

The third thing this book does is send us back to the records we have owned since time immemorial, but which we no longer listen to. Specifically, for present purposes, "Second Edition", by Public Image Ltd, a record that turns out to have aged remarkably well. And it was mighty impressive then, if a bit unwieldy and a bit unfathomable. The unwieldiness is gone, owing to long-term familiarity. It's in m' veins. The unfathomability no longer matters, and may well have been the point. Here is an album that is all about sound, particularly - and featuring strongly on "Careering" - the overwhelming dub-inflected heft of Jah Wobble's bass and the wiry guitar playing of Keith Levene. On "Careering", though, Levene jettisons his guitar in favour of a parade of Moog synth noises that, although they sound suspiciously like they may have come from a Doctor Who sound-effects record, build a sense of malevolence that is perfect for the song. The other thing I hadn't previously noticed about "Careering", though, is how closely the opening few bars of it resemble the start of another great song of the era (and another one I haven't put on for years), Magazine's "The Light Pours Out Of Me". The two songs are, I seem to recall, close contemporaries. There must have been something in the water.

"The clothes make the man."

The above line, if I remember correctly, which I probably don't, is spoken by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, resplendent in a red suit, as he stands behind a hotel desk in Jim Jarmusch's "Mystery Train". It is a sentiment that has clearly been taken to heart by Warren Ellis, hirsute Dirty Three violinist and Nick Cave's present (red) right-hand man, according to this highly entertaining, albeit woefully edited, piece at The Quietus. We could all learn a thing or two from it.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Song of the day

"Hello Earth", by Kate Bush. When you hear this at its allotted place, near the end of "Hounds of Love", it doesn't particularly stand out. But when it appeared, unexpectedly, during a mix that was recently posted at beck.com, it was almost a heart-stopping moment. She is good, isn't she?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Product placement

We are grateful to our friend Colin for drawing our attention to the existence (disbelieved by us at first) of Lego kits that allow you to build your very own Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater. We have, almost literally, a house full of Lego pieces, and we are married to an architect, so they have an obvious attraction. Nevertheless, there is something not quite right about the results, at least as depicted on the box. It may be that Lego is just not a good medium for Frank Lloyd Wright. Still, full marks to everyone involved.

On the other hand, we could easily be seen dead wearing one of these. Richard McGuire, he is the man.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Song of the day

"You Never Knew Me", by Magazine. For some time when I was sixteen, "The Correct Use Of Soap" was my favourite album, and it is a strange experience to be listening to it again after quite a long time. (Not that I haven't listened to Magazine since, but until recently "Soap" felt so ingrained in my mind that I didn't have any need to actually play it.) As a self-imagined "alienated" teenager, I was particularly struck by "You Never Knew Me" because of how far against the grain it went. There was nothing "punk" here, it was slow, gorgeous, melodic, it couldn't be any less in your face. I suspect I can now see where my love of breathy female vocals (soon to reach full bloom with songs like "I'm In Love With A German Film Star", by The Passions, and "Trees and Flowers", by Strawberry Switchblade) came from. Had there ever been girl singers of this sort, gentle, free of stance/attitude, on a post-punk record before this song? I doubt it, but I'm sure somebody will prove me wrong. Ah, Howard Devoto. Was there anything he couldn't do?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Avert your eyes, kids, it's a record review

Circumstances conspired against my catching any of the reformation gigs by the most important of eighties Australian bands, The Laughing Clowns. The offer of a ticket to the Mount Buller leg of All Tomorrow's Parties couldn't be taken up on account of my having to be back in Canberra at the very time when my proposed lift would have been driving back down the Hume towards Melbourne. Plans to attend the Basement gig in Sydney a couple of months later (which morphed into a Bad Seeds with Ed Kuepper gig, with Laughing Clowns supporting, to add insult to injury) had to be abandoned on account of a secondary school open day in Canberra that same weekend (and our application was rejected anyway, thank you very much).

So it is a genuine consolation, albeit laced with bitter disappointment at what I could have witnessed first hand, to be able to listen to "Laughing Clowns Live", the latest in the ongoing Prince Melon Bootleg Series (the shades of Dylan in that title not, presumably, being accidental). I have no idea which gig it is taken from, or if it is a hybrid, or even if an entire concert is here (set lists I have seen suggest there are a few songs missing - insert sad-face emoticon here). The editing is extremely sloppy, the sound is serviceable (I would like to be able to hear more of Jeffery Wegener working his magic), and there are a number of fluffed notes. But it's Laughing Clowns Live, circa 2009, and you can't put a price on that.

One listens to this, with one's knowledge of how the Clowns ended so acrimoniously first time around, of Ed's peripatetic but patchy (but, lest this be seen as faint praise, frequently inspired) subsequent solo career, of his ceaseless revisiting and reinventing of his songbook, and of Wegener's addiction and gradual re-emergence, and gets the sense that this is the music that Ed Kuepper was put on this planet to make, and that he has been honing his own skills this past 25 years in the hope that somehow, some day, he, Louise Elliott, and Wegener would once more command the stage.

Which, remarkably but on the other hand unsurprisingly, they do. The set opens with something called "Everything Is Not The Fault Of Minorities" (a very Laughing Clowns title, that), which comprises six minutes of Necks-style abstraction (don't forget that Chris Abrahams plays on their penultimate album, "Law Of Nature"), finally resolving into the briefest fragment of an actual song before abruptly stopping (shades of The Field, and in particular "A Paw In My Face", which turns out, after five or so minutes, to have been a heavily disguised "Hello", by, ahem, Lionel Ritchie).

Then come three shorter numbers, all cornerstones of the Clowns' back catalogue: "Come One, Come All", "Everything That Flies Is Not A Bird" and "Theme From 'Mad Flies Mad Flies'" (and with all three also appearing on "Live To Air 1982", which may yet turn out to be a recording of the only Laughing Clowns gig I ever saw, anyone with a more intimate knowledge of these songs than my own will be in trainspotter heaven). Ed's guitar seems to have thickened up considerably since the early 80s: perhaps that is just a product of technology, but the two live performances, side by side, would seem to confirm that his playing has changed. Single notes have become big chords, and that sinewy, metallic sound is gone. It suits the music. (His voice has thickened quite a bit, too, across the years.) Elliott, of course, is magisterial throughout. Wegener may not be playing quite as frenetically as before (to the extent that you can hear him) but his singular sense of rhythm and texture has lost nothing.

Not to suggest that these three songs are mere potatoes, but what follows is the real meat of the performance: a harrowing, stretched-out rendering of the most desolate, and most emotionally intense, song of the post-punk era, "Collapse Board", and yet another re-working of "Eternally Yours". ("Eternally Yours" appears on each of the Prince Melon Bootleg releases to date: one, in fact, comprises just that song, strung out over 17 minutes, with (I think) just Ed, Elliott and Wegener, somewhere in the UK in 2007, and the way Elliott is introduced makes me suspect that this may have been the first time they shared a stage since the Clowns initially fell apart, and that her appearance was possibly unexpected and/or unrehearsed: in which case, you can only think that those 17 minutes were the fuse that led to the full-blown Clowns rebirth, if that's what it is. You couldn't do what they did there and not be compelled to see what could happen next.)

"Collapse Board" has been pulled in two directions: the already slow instrumental passages are slowed down almost to the point of stasis, while the, for want of a better word, verses have been augmented by some sterling piano work. Kuepper does something almost twangy with the guitar, too, possibly recalling the unlikely but wonderful surf-rock re-working of the song ("Diving Board") that turns up on one of his instrumental albums. The crowd mistakenly thinks it is over after six minutes (Ed very politely tells them, "Wait for us, wait for us"), but Ed knows better, and it would be less than half the song if he had ended it there. Elliott proceeds to blow the living shit out of everybody in the room. Alister Spence, on piano, is clearly thinking, at least tangentially, of Chris Abrahams here, too, while in the quieter moments Wegener can be heard playing all around the song, just like the old days. The song doesn't so much end as run out of places to go.

And then there's "Eternally Yours". If anything on this record is going to run a shiver up your spine, it is this. The song doesn't reveal itself at all until a couple of mostly expressionistic minutes have passed. That sax line kicks in. Does Ed's voice almost break? I find myself welling up, whether just from the thrill of hearing this song being played by this band after this many years, or from a sense of how emotional this moment must surely have been for Ed - assuming, contrary to most impressions, that he is really just an old softy. It lasts for 13 glorious minutes. Elliott, again, leaves one speechless (and herself breathless). Unlike "Collapse Board", it gets faster as it goes on: it ends in what is more like a train wreck than the end of a song. When it ends, and Ed semi-legibly introduces the band and says "Thank you, you've been really fuckin' great", one is left wondering whether he is speaking to the audience or the band. I suspect the latter.

As an encore they do "New Bully In The Town" (one of my favourite late-period Clowns songs), in a spirit of elation. It's that kind of song. Ed's guitar and Wegener's drumming are everything, although the flute solo (!) makes me want to listen to some Jethro Tull (!), and the electric piano builds huge rectangular blocks of sound. I smile. What else can you do? It's only a record, not a physical experience, but still I am emotionally drained at the end. You can't ask for much more than that.

Salivating

I am.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Song of the day - or is it?

"Mr Roboto", by Styx. Adrienne claims to remember this. I have no knowledge of it whatsoever, aside from its brief appearance in "Faraway Idol", at the end of "Shrek 2", where Pinocchio sings the "domo arigato, Mr Roboto" bit. (Interesting, but irrelevant, question: will I still go to the cinema to watch children's animated movies when the boys are too old to want to go with me? This may be put to an early test with "Coraline": I think that I would want to see it, but the short has sufficiently scared the crap out of both boys that they aren't going to be going anywhere near it.)

Anyway, the Pinocchio fragment (and there, Mr Dan Brown, is your next novel, "The Pinocchio Fragment": it's all yours, and I claim only a very modest 15 per cent) comprises a brief section roughly two-thirds of the way through the song, and bearing little connection to what is around it. Bizarrely, "Roboto" is pronounced "Robarto", presumably in the interests of rhyme (over reason).

I have no knowledge if the song was a big hit. I "found" it as part of something called "80's [sic] Giga Hits Collection" so I can only assume that it was (although my sources suggest it never got into the UK top 40 - a rare exercise of good taste by the British pop punters if true). But as a song, precisely what the fuck is it? It has no hook to speak of (outside of the "domo arigato" bit, and even that is somewhat less than catchy), no chorus, no particularly notable instrumentation. Big hair? Undoubtedly. Big eighties keyboards? Check. Trouser-hugging high male vocals? Ouch, yes. Big concept? Well, that is the nub of the problem: it is all concept. Here was a band so wrapped up with the perceived importance of what they were doing that they lost sight of what it was that they were meant to be doing. And what is with that "Kilroy" bit at the end?

It's all rather puzzling, really. A futurist manifesto masquerading as a song. And it's not even a proper song! What it puts me in mind of more than anything else is "Robots", from the first series of "Flight of the Conchords" ("Binary solo!"), except that was comedy, whereas "Mr Roboto", well, that may be comedy as well, but, judging by the earnestness on display, it would be unintentional.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Happiness is ...

... when you are having a day off work, and listening to Kraftwerk's "Minimum-Maximum" live double-CD, and at the end of "The Model" two little voices from the other end of the house shout, in unison, "Play that song again!".

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Continuity error

Oh no! We have written about two songs from Darren's list before writing about the previous song on that list. As the sequencing of the list was generated at random, anyway, it hardly matters, but we are sticklers about that sort of thing, so it hurts nevertheless. What follows should go before what came before.

"Louie, Louie", by The Kingsmen, is the wellspring from which a thousand garage bands bloomed. It is the sine qua non of the three-chord wonder. It is the "Smoke On The Water" of the lank-haired slacker set. If I had ever owned a cheesy organ, those opening chords are the ones I would have been desperate to learn. It has been covered so many times that if you played them end to end you would probably die of old age before they finished. (But not of boredom: somebody on Melbourne's Three Triple-R, many years ago, devoted an entire show to this song, and it ended all too soon.) Like many of the perfect things in this world, it thrives on its simplicity. And on the fact that it was the first.